U research facility is included in bond projects

by Andrew Pritchard

Five state senators called on the Legislature on Thursday to pass bonding projects former Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed last year.

The projects include building and maintenance at the University and at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities schools, as well as the University’s proposed Translational Research Facility.

Sen. Jim Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, said the state should take advantage of low interest rates and create jobs.

“We put these people to work, they pay taxes, there’s sales tax collected, and it goes on and on,” he said. “Now is the opportune time, my friends, to sell these bonds.”

The lawmakers said the projects, including the Translational Research Facility, are important for the economy and justify passing a bonding bill in an odd-numbered year – typically reserved for general fund budgeting.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said the University has a private $15 million grant for the research facility but needs state funding before undertaking the project.

After Ventura’s veto in May, an anonymous donor withdrew a $10 million pledge to the University for the project.

The $24 million proposal was among more than $160 million in University projects Ventura vetoed. The Board of Regents included the Translational Research Facility and five other vetoed bonding projects in its $61 million supplemental budget request in October.

Following Thursday’s Board of Regents meetings, University President Robert Bruininks said he was unaware of the legislators’ announcement earlier in the day.

“We’re really pleased to hear there’s some progress on the capital bill,” he said.

Bruininks said the University has raised $13 million to help pay for the research facility.

“We have a number of projects that were vetoed and think they’re all very important,” he said. “I think these are very good projects. They are critically important to our education and research mission. We’re quite confident that we can find a way to fund them without jeopardizing our academic budgets.”

Currently scheduled for completion in fall 2005, the 96,000-square-foot, four-story Translational Research Facility would be added to the existing Lions Research Building near the Huron Boulevard Parking Complex.

The facility would house biomedical research laboratories and offices for 33 additional clinical scientists.

“To do the translational research center at the University of Minnesota really has a long-term impact on the state economy,” said Sen. Bob Kierlin, R-Winona.

Langseth said lawmakers would likely have to defend their plans against public opposition to more spending commitments during a fiscal crisis.

“The bonding and the capital projects are different from the general fund,” he said, “and the best time to do them is when the economy’s down.”

Sens. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls and Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, also support the bonding plan.

– Staff reporter Dan Haugen contributed to this report.